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Developer proposes luxury condos in Miami Heart Institute

Eight years after the Miami Heart Institute shut down, a Miami-based development team wants to gut the bulky Miami Beach medical campus and turn it into luxury residences.

Lionheart Capital, which bought the nine-acre site from Mount Sinai Medical Center in February for $20 million, has proposed fitting 154 condos into the seven-story hospital’s renovated waterfront shell and building nine villas on an adjacent parking lot.

“I see what’s happening here at the Miami Heart as a huge opportunity for all of us in Miami Beach,” developer Ricardo Dunin said during a recent hearing at city hall.

Dunin said he and partner Ophir Sternberg initially planned on building assisted living facilities or nursing homes on the site, but changed their minds.

“As the world is changing and the market is changing it opened the opportunity for us to do what we like doing, which is a very upscale residential project,” he said.

Dunin developed The Mutiny and the Sonesta Hotel & Suites in Coconut Grove. Lionheart, which is backed by a multibillion-dollar private equity firm in New York, spent $120 million two years ago on 146 unsold condo units on Singer Island in Palm Beach to create the Ritz Carlton Residences.

Lionheart’s plans for the site at 4701 N. Meridian Ave. are still in the early stages, so much so that the developer declined to provide The Miami Herald images presented to neighbors.

The firm needs the Miami Beach City Commission to change the future land-use designation and hospital district zoning of a 4.3-acre chunk to build anything other than limited options that include assisted living facilities or nursing homes on the land. An early version of the project is just now being vetted before land-use boards.

Lionheart hired Italian architect Piero Lissoni and Jon Cardello of ADD Inc. to create a luxury product from the medical facility.

The designers have talked about removing the structure’s terracotta roofing, and cutting out about 73,000 square feet in ramping and four- or five-story sections of the hospital by the waterfront and street front to open up views and create courtyards. They plan to add greenery to the existing parking garage and a pool to the roof.

“Not only it is a huge improvement over the current eyesore, which would remain intact if we end up doing a medical use building, but a luxury residential project would substantially increase the neighborhood’s property values,” Dunin and Sternberg said in a statement.

Jack Lowell, senior managing director of Flagler Real Estate Services, said turning a 1967 hospital into “ultra luxury” condos isn’t as difficult as it sounds because hospitals and condos share similar structural designs. And he said Miami Heart Institute’s prime location on a corner waterfront lot is a covetable asset.

“It’s a great location and the views are spectacular,” Lowell said.

Another challenge for Lionheart is addressing concerns from residents in the surrounding neighborhood, who have raised some opposition to the project.

Neighbors began pushing against dense development as soon as Mount Sinai announced its intention to sell the Miami Heart Institute in 2007. Voters passed a referendum in 2008 that made it so that Miami Beach hospital sites, when converted to a different use, would revert to the zoning of abutting land.

For the Miami Heart site, that land is low-density residential, though converting the vacant medical complex into condos allows the developer flexibility in a “non-conforming” building.

Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who pushed the 2008 referendum, said new development on the site has to be “very carefully done.”

“I would be protective of what the residents want. I fought hard for them,” she said.

Dunin, who lives in Miami Beach, said, “I very much welcome quality projects in my neighborhood, especially when it removes non-residential buildings that are out of character with it. I would definitely support this project as a neighbor.”